Professional Practice

Sustainable Residential Design: Maximizing the Benefits of Plants

productive plants page detail
Dune Side Residence, East Hampton, New York Edmund Hollander Landscape Architect Design, P.C, New York, New York

Plants are central to a functioning global ecosystem. Plants oxygenate the atmosphere and reduce atmospheric pollutants. Reforestation in both developed and developing countries is a primary strategy for mitigating the effects of man-made greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. However, plants are not only key to the global ecosystem, but also crucial to human health.

Through "integrated site design", a comprehensive approach to sustainable building and site design, sustainable residential landscape architecture practices can not only improve water and energy efficiency, but also use plants to eliminate chemical fertilizers, produce food, restore ecosystems, and clean air. If part of a broader integrated site design, sustainable residential landscape architecture can extend the many benefits of plants.

Integrated site design is a framework for increasing the quality of the built environment, and involves maximizing existing natural systems to create productive and healthy residential environments. These types of designs leverage the many benefits of natural systems, thereby significantly cutting down the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Decreased chemical fertilizer use means homes are healthier, and ecosystems more resilient.

Homeowners can use plants to recreate healthy ecosystems in residential areas, and reduce some of the adverse effects of residential buildings on ecosystems. There are a number of ways to extend the benefits of plants: restoring native plants to residential landscapes, using plants as food sources within residences, creating wildlife habitat through the strategic use of certain plants, adding indoor plants to improve air quality and human productivity, and creating residential composting systems for efficient waste removal.

Local governments are also partnering with non-profit organizations to increase public awareness about using sustainable residential design practices to create productive plant systems.

Native Plants
Residential Agriculture
Residential Pollinators
Indoor Plants
Residential Composting


Botanical Society of America

Center for Plant Biodiversity ResearchAustralia

Center for Plant Conservation

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Nature Conservancy

Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (UK) 

Sustainable Sites Initiative 

U.S. Botanic Garden

U.S. Green Building Council 


"Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants," Douglas W. Tallamy. Timber Press, 2009  

"Endangered Species Acts Must Protect Plants," Native Plant Conservation Campaign

"Plant-Driven Design: Creating Gardens that Honor Plants, Place and Spirit," Scott and Lauren Springer Odgen. Timber Press, 2008  

"The Green Fuse: Using Plants to Provide Ecosystem Services," Rene Kane, SPROUT, October 2004


Biodiversity and Climate Change, UN Environment Program, World Conservation Monitoring Center

Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO)

Designing Neighborhoods for People and Wildlife, ASLA

eNature: Native Plants and Invasive Species

General Plant Biology

LEED for Homes, U.S. Green Building Council

Native Plants, Natural Landscapes 


Virtual Library of Botany / Plant Biology

Government Resources

Bayscapes for Wildlife Habitat - A Homeowner's Guide, Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, State of Virginia

Conservation Programs, Natural Resources Conservation Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture

Ecosystems and Biodiversity, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Great Plains: Native Plants and Climate Change, U.S. Global Change Research Program

Greenacres: Landscaping with Native Plants, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Colorado Plateau Native Plants Initiative, National Landscape Conservation System, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Department of the Interior

Plant Conservation AllianceBureau of Land Management, Interior Department

Plants Database, U.S. Department of Agriculture 


Dune Side Residence, East Hampton, New York
Edmund Hollander Landscape Architect Design, P.C, New York, New York

Farrar Pond Residence, Lincoln, Massachusetts
Mikyoung Kim Design, Brookline, Massachusetts

Garden/garden, Santa Monica, California
Jettscapes Landscapes

High Point, Seattle, Washington

Ma ple Hill Residence, Westwood, Massachusetts
Stephen Stim son Associates

Quartz Mountain Residence, Paradise Valley, Arizona
Steve Martino & Associates, Phoenix, Arizona


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